Report from Springfield: Special COVID-19 Session Preview

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Illinois lawmakers will return to Springfield on Wednesday for a special session.

It’s sure to be special in more ways than one.

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For starters, it literally is a “special session,” with lawmakers called in via a joint proclamation issued May 13 from House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon, both Democrats.

As such, it will be limited to only seven topics, including a COVID-19 response, the state budget and the November election.

“As the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a demonstrable emergency exists which requires immediate attention by the General Assembly,” the proclamation reads.

But it will also be special due to precautions being taken in light of the pandemic.

Lawmakers, legislative staff and members of the media were encouraged to get coronavirus tests.

At least one legislator, state Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., a Democrat from Little Village who was appointed to his 21st District seat in January, tested positive so will not be present.

Senators will meet in their chamber, but not all at once – they will only rotate in to speak in debate or to vote and otherwise are to stay in their offices.

The Illinois House, meanwhile, will convene at the Bank of Springfield convention center in downtown Springfield.

Activists with the ReOpen Illinois movement are expected to rally outside, in protest.

Madigan on Tuesday said he plans for the House’s first order of business to be adopting new rules that will “require members, staff and the public to wear masks, submit to temperature checks prior to entering the building each day and observe social distancing guidelines outlined by public health experts while inside the Bank of Springfield Center.”

If and when the rules pass, they would immediately take effect.

Any state representative who violates the rule would face discipline, including being removed from the House floor should representatives vote on it.

“This is not an action I take lightly, but when it comes to the health and safety of members, their families, staff and the communities they represent, it is the right and prudent thing to do,” Madigan said in a statement Tuesday. “Staff and members of the public not observing the rules will be asked to leave the premises immediately.

That could set the stage for a fight.

A few Republican legislators, including state Rep. Darren Bailey of Xenia, who is suing Gov. J.B. Pritzker over his executive order, have said they will refuse to wear face coverings.

As if foreshadowing a skirmish, Madigan’s statement ended with this: “I look forward to focusing on the critical work needed to ensure our state can continue to respond to the COVID-19 health crisis and provide relief to people struggling around the state and not on needless distractions.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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